No. I’m not even going to tease that any further. They’re not. But, they might just be much better than we thought they were.
A History of Low Expectations
I love the Rangers. When I was a kid I can remember watching the likes of Juan Gonzalez, Rusty Greer, Benji Gill, Will Clark, Mark McLemore, Dean Palmer, Warren Newson, Mickey Tettleton, manager Johnny Oates, and my person hero, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The team seemed constantly cursed by a wealth of bats and deficit of pitchers, but then again it was the 1990s, so I’ll just assume the Rangers pitching largely sucked because their guys weren’t taking steroids.
In 1996, when I was 7 years old, the Rangers won the AL West, then promptly lost 3-1 to the Yankees in the divisional series. They won the AL West again in 1998 and 1998, both of which resulted in sweep losses to the Yankees in the divisional series.
Then came the bad years. In 1998, businessman Tom Hicks, who has since proven that he can take any sports organization and run it straight into the ground, bought the Rangers from its ownership group. Hicks and his delusions of mediocrity led to the signing of Alex Rodriguez in 2001 and an ensuing four seasons of some of the worst baseball that’s ever been played. The Rangers were terrible, ARod wasn’t even particularly liked in Dallas (probably because he had come from division rival Seattle, or maybe just because he’s a prettyboy douchebag). Attendance was down, play was down, Tom Hicks was always in the news, and Pudge Rodriguez jumped ship to the laughable Florida Marlins, who made the league eat crow by winning the World Series with a team payroll of about 18¢. In 2003, the same year the Marlins won the World Series, the Rangers finished dead last in the AL West for the fourth consecutive year. On the upside, Alex Rodriguez was given to the Yankees after the 2003 season, though because of the ridiculousness of his contract with the Rangers, the boys in Texas continued to pay him for the next several years.
Turnaround and Hope
Then, in 2005, Jon Daniels became the general manager and began rebuilding. New managers, new players, and even new uniforms were implemented to scrub the stink of ARod off of the organization. Michael Young became a bit of a team leader, and was one of the few guys to successfully make the jump from the awful ARod years to the eventual World Series appearance years.
New faces like Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Derek Holland, and Nelson Cruz began to have big impacts on the team’s success. In 2008, the team looks like an actual major league baseball team for the first time since the division title in 1999. Two years later, the last bad apple finally fell from the tree, and Tom Hicks sold the Rangers to an investment group that included the likes of Texas native, beef rancher, and certified hardass Nolan Ryan. (Under Texas law* I am legally obligated to put the following video in this article now that I have mentioned Nolan Ryan):
The 2010 season was magical. I was actually in Germany during all of July and a good chunk of August but would find ways to watch when I could. I distinctly remember George Steinbrenner dying while I was in Europe, and while I’m not one to celebrate anyone’s death, it did seem somewhat symbolic. The Yankees was the team that had put the Rangers out of all three playoff appearances they had ever made. The Yankees was the team that Alex Rodriguez played for despite still collecting check from the Rangers. The Yankees owned baseball, and there seemed to be some poetry in the fact that their figurehead left us just as the Rangers got a legendary new one in Nolan Ryan. Acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina (who, though I can’t prove it, has to be the fattest man to ever hit for the cycle) breathed even more life into the Rangers, and before any of us could fully process it, they were in the World Series.
Unfortunately, the Rangers crapped the bed offensively against the San Francisco Giants, who themselves played incredibly well. It was humbling and sad, but those of us who were lifelong Rangers fans were proud.
In 2011, the Rangers dominated the American League and ended up back in the World Series, this time against the St. Louis Cardinals. This led to the single greatest sports heartbreak of my life. In the ninth inning of Game 6, the Rangers were one strike away from winning the World Series. The Cardinals’ David Freese was down 1-2 in the count with two outs when he sent a routine fly ball to right field, where Nelson Cruz was apparently thinking about something other than baseball. Cruz badly misjudged the ball, which went past his hand, extended by a slightly little-girlish jump, and provided Freese with a game tying RBI triple. I can’t even bring myself to embed the video, but you can Google it. If you listen very closely, you can actually hear my heart breaking from about 45 miles away.
The Rangers then went up in the tenth inning only to have the Cardinals tie in the bottom of the tenth. After a scoreless top of the eleventh, David Freese led off for the Cardinals in the bottom half of the inning and promptly hit a walk-off home run. The Cardinals then won Game 7 and wiped their collective rear ends with my heart.
Since the bipolarity of the heartbreaking-but-encouraging 2010 and 2011 seasons, the Rangers have been in a steady decline. Josh Hamilton’s injuries and off-the-field issues dealt him to the Angels, then back to the Rangers, then ultimately (probably) to a trailer park somewhere between Dallas and Fort Worth. Ian Kinsler was traded to Detroit for Prince Fielder, which might be the second worst financial decision the Rangers have ever made behind the ARod deal. Even the steady-as-she-goes Michael Young left for Philadelphia. Sure, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Rougned Odor provided brief moments of happiness, the latter in the form of doing what every baseball fan has dreamed of by punching Jose Bautista in the face. (As an aside, I was studying for finals in my second year of law school when this happened, and I actually had the game streaming in my study group’s room. I’m pretty sure we quit studying for the day because we were also so excited to see Bautista finally have someone hit him in his smug stupid face.) But ultimately the team was just bad.
Seriously, man. I could watch that gif all day.
But the baseball was, by and large, disappointing. The Rangers haven’t had a winning season since 2016, and frankly haven’t even looked decent since before then.
Subsection IV: A New Hope
But this year has been different. Sure, they haven’t looked just fantastic, but they at least look like they care. They currently have the longest winning streak in the AL West (admittedly somewhat blithe to say because their streak is at two games), and haven’t looked defeated as early in games as the teams of even last year. New players like Andolis Garcia have brought a youthful optimism to the team, while veterans like David Dahl, Joey Gallo, and Willie Calhoun are providing some stability. Even the pitching staff, which has been the bane of the Rangers over the past few seasons, looks good. They are improving, and that’s all we as fans can ask for.
So are the Rangers the best team in the AL West? No, not right now. Right now the Oakland Athletics are the best team in the AL West, both in the standings and the you-can-just-tell-they’re-good-when-you-watch-them-play way. But the Rangers are not in last place, and in fact are getting visibly better every week. It’s exciting because watching this team feels like watching the 2008 team with Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton. Could Isiah Kiner-Falefa be that great infield spark like Kinsler and Elvis Andrus were? Could Joey Gallo finally learn to not swing at every fastball within 17 feet of the plate? Could pitchers with numbers like 59 and 66 pitch like they were considered better going into spring training?
It certainly feels like it. And I, for one, am happy to be on the ground floor of what I hope is a great team in the coming seasons.
*No, I’m not. That was clearly a joke, and please don’t take anything in this article as legal advice.